Reeder: ‘Some of the smartest people in the world work within a prison’

Editor’s note: October is National Principals Month. The Pee Dee Post will publish profiles on each of the county’s school principals during the month.
Jamie Greene
Yvonne Gilmer
Ellen Mabe
Joyce McRae
Hal Shuler
Angela Watkins
Dawn Terry
* Pam Patterson

By Kevin Spradlin

HOFFMAN — In the beginning, Andy Reeder never pictured himself as a principal. And he certainly never imagined being a principal inside a state prison.

But the 37-year-old North Carolina native has spent the past four years overseeing the mandatory education classes at Morrison Correctional Institution. Reeder arrives to the McDonald Church Road facility located near Hoffman with a confidence in his step — because even if he has a bad day there’s a team of colleagues ready to help him out.

Andy Reeder

Andy Reeder

With a capacity of of 801 male inmates mixed between minimum and medium security facilities on the 175-acre tract, a chain of case managers, correctional officers and educators work to help put inmates on a better path while in prison than the one that landed them behind bars.

“We are an educational facility,” Reeder said of a place where “students and teachers are highly engaged.”

Reeder said he relies on a cohesiveness between the custody and program sides of life inside the institution. With a veteran staff, many with 20 or more years of experience, “we’re a family. I’ve met some of the most intelligent, hardworking people in my entire career. Some of the smartest people in the world work within a prison.”

Upon being processed into the institution, each inmate takes the TABE academic assessment test.

“We know exactly where everyone is,” Reeder said.

The goal is to help inmates study to pass the high school equivalency exam. With that piece of paper, those who haven’t graduated high school in the traditional manager have a bit more hope than others. In addition to the high school equivalency, employees provide a variety of transitional skills including how to prepare for an interview — anything that might help convince an employer to take a chance on an ex-offender.

The goal, Reeder said, is to reduce recidivism. Ex-offenders improve their odds of staying on a better path in life by between 24 percent and 27 percent with a passing grade on the high school equivalency exam. Across the state, Reeder said, efforts like his and that of his teachers are working to reduce crime.

“I’ve been able to see a lot of people change,” Reeder said. “The best part is seeing (ex-offenders) not return. It works.”

It’s a win-win situation. Ex-offenders stay out of prison and rejoin society. With the skills and the exam in the rearview mirror, the path to gainful employment is much smoother. While there are stories of failure, the successes are easy to point out. An area convenience store manager and a Moore County chef — the latter, Reeder said, whom he ran into one night while taking his family out to dinner.

“It was nice,” Reeder said, noting the ex-offender was able to support his wife and children. “He didn’t’ want to return to prison.”

Prior to his arrival at Morrison Correctional Institution, Reeder spent three years as an assistant principal at Richmond Senior High School. Before that, he spent several years with Principal Steve Hagen in Montgomery and Stanly counties. It was during his time at West Montgomery High School that Hagen convinced Reeder to climb the ladder.

“We become one of the top schools in the state,” Reeder said of Hagen’s inclusive approach that molded a team of teachers, parents and students towards a unifying goal.

The take away?

“It’s amazing what one person can do to change lives,” Reeder learned.

Reeder acknowledged he’s one to seek out a challenge. When he heard of the vacancy at Morrison, he applied.

“I was, naturally, a bit apprehensive,” Reeder said.

As the new guy on the block, Reeder quickly learned to lean on the experience of those in the custody and program sides of the institution. The approach has worked well, and it’s a position he wouldn’t trade. He’s not only helping student-inmates learn the skills necessary to pass the test, but he’s testing their entire personal philosophy.

To effect a reduction in recidivism, he and his teachers help inmates “make the right decisions and change their internal belief system,” telling them, “you can be an independent, responsible citizens.”

Reeder completed his undergraduate work at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in romance languages. He obtained his K-12 teaching certificate from Appalachian State University and earned a master’s degree in principalship and curriculum from UNC-Charlotte. He also studied, studying French but learning a bit of Arabic and Bulgarian as well.


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